A Letter from the Pastor to Presbytery
February 2, 2012
Though many of us in Steeler Nation are sorry about who’s fighting it out, most of us are still well aware of the NFL championship game coming up this Sunday. Some of our congregations have joined forces with a national army of Christians gathering food for the needy on championship Sunday in a program cleverly called the “Souper Bowl.”
Well, I figure that if they can mutilate “Super Bowl,” why can’t I? So I propose our marking the coming Sunday as “Superbole Sunday” – or better, “Superbole Awareness Sunday.” Since I invented the word, I’ll decree that it is pronounced to rhyme with “hyperbole.” It means “to go over the top” in what we say. It cuts both ways – undeserved flattery and blame are both instances of superbole.
Current political campaigns are redolent with superbole – candidates claim far more for themselves than the evidence supports, and accuse their opponents of far worse than the facts warrant. Let’s be honest – they’re just doing what we all do when we take sides on matters great or trivial. We stake a claim against each other, creating a distance between ourselves that leads to our diminishing others while exalting ourselves.
It happens fairly innocuously with sports fans – we admire everyone who cheers on the black and gold, and pillory those who cheer for the blue, purple, or red. While this is usually just lighthearted fun with sports, it becomes something very different in politics, or even in church. When the stakes go up and our divisions between “us and them” widen, so do our propensities to demonize others and elevate ourselves.
The first book of John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion says that our fundamental human problem is that we esteem ourselves too highly and commensurately fail to give God due honor. The same thing happens in human relationships – we routinely engage in the superbole of flattery to ourselves and discredit to others.
Calvin seeks to break this cycle by beginning the service of divine worship with confessing our sin. His liturgy begins not with a song of praise, but with a cry of confession. Only when we own our sinfulness can we begin to grasp the majestic holiness of God.
Something similar happens in our relationships with each other. We continue to overestimate our own worth and diminish the integrity of others until we take intentional steps to move closer to those whom we’ve discredited from a distance.
One of my great privileges, as someone who gets to worship regularly with people across the whole spectrum of the church, is to discover deep Gospel authenticity in the life and witness of people at every point across that vast expanse. To be sure, all have their struggles and shortcomings; but by getting close to folk across the breadth of the church I also see the depth of their devotion to our Lord Jesus and his Gospel. They begin to look very different from the picture painted by folk camped out in opposition to them.
I have some friends who have recently been visiting congregations on “other sides” of the church – congregations from denominations or with political affinities very different from their home church. They tell me they’ve been astonished to hear the Gospel proclaimed with great faith and hope and love in places they’d never dreamed possible. They have been humbled to realize not only the depth of devotion to Jesus among folk they’d written off, but also the pride they carried regarding their own spiritual superiority. In short, getting close to folk they’d long kept at a distance has been the beginning of their deliverance from the clutches of superbole.
So, here’s a prayer of confession for “Superbole Awareness Sunday”: Lord of life, who loves us more than we can possibly imagine, deliver us from being quick to speak and think too highly of ourselves and too little of others. We acknowledge our many shortcomings and blind spots. We commit to bless people different from us, rather than curse them. We repent of the distance we’ve kept from those whom you have given us as fellow-pilgrims on this journey and fellow-heirs in the inheritance of the saints. Help us receive and honor one another as gifts of your Spirit for our welfare and for your glory, for the sake of the One who came to seek and to save all who are lost. Amen.
With honor and gratitude to each of you,
The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, Pastor to Pittsburgh Presbytery
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